By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Feb 14
Even as India increases the size of its army by close to 1,50,000 soldiers, raising uncomfortable questions of how it will finance equipment modernization, the United States is cutting its army to the smallest size since before World War II in order to equip and train it adequately.
According to the Pentagon’s new spending proposals, the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a sharply reduced defence budget force manpower to be slashed to retain funding for maintaining America’s military technological edge.
The New York Times, which has broken the news ahead of a report that it says will be made public on Monday, says that America’s land forces will be reduced from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to about 440,000 in the coming years.
America, however, will maintain its ability to project power across the globe. It will retain 11 aircraft carriers that are spread across the world, and the US Navy will continue to purchase two destroyers and two attack submarines every year.
The controversial F-35 fifth generation strike aircraft, which has faced time and cost overruns, will continue to get funding. The legendary U-2 spy plane, which performed reconnaissance missions over enemy territory by flying higher and faster than any fighter aircraft in service, will be retired; the unmanned, remotely piloted Global Hawk will replace the U-2.
Providing an opportunity for India, the US Air Force is retiring its entire fleet of A-10 Warthog ground strike aircraft. Bristling with cannons, rockets, bombs and air-to-surface missiles, this armoured aircraft was specially designed to provide fire support to army soldiers on the battlefield. During both Gulf Wars against Iraq, the A-10 was the nemesis of Iraqi tanks.
“Whether in the mountains, or against enemy tank forces, the A-10 would dramatically boost the Indian Army’s combat power”, says a senior serving general. The army increasingly believes that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is focusing more on tackling enemy air forces rather than on supporting the army on the battlefield.
Emphasising the changing nature of warfare, the new Pentagon plan, which carries the imprimatur of Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, protects funding for Special Operations Forces and for cyber warfare.
The budget cuts that necessitate this restructuring stem from the Bipartisan Budget Act of December, which caps military spending at $496 billion for 2015 (India has allocated $36 billion on defence in 2014-15). The US military could see even deeper cuts in 2016, if the sequestration law kicks in.
The budget has been ruthless on personnel spending, imposing a one-year salary freeze for generals and flag officers. Military personnel will have to make do with a salary rise of 1 per cent; and face reduced subsidies for housing and daily living.
In contrast, the Indian army, in the interim budget presented on February 17, has retained its bloated personnel costs --- spending more than two-thirds of its revenue budget on salaries. This is set to increase once the 7th Pay Commission inevitably raises entitlements.